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Anthony Banda has Robbie Ray aspirations

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But can he match his former teammate’s major league production?

MLB: Spring Training-Minnesota Twins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays acquired LHP Anthony Banda just before Spring Training games began, along with 2B Nick Solak, in the surprising trade of RF Steven Souza Jr. His acquisition would prove to be prescient. With the Rays top pitching prospects Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon needing Tommy John surgery this Spring, Banda becomes the next man up for the Rays.

Banda spent most of 2017 in AAA and went 8-7 with a 5.39 ERA in the hitter friendly PCL. The Diamondbacks also called on Banda 8 times with the big squad, and he started in 4 of those games. The numbers weren’t particularly pleasing as he had an ERA teetering close to 6; however, he did strike out 25 batters in 25.2 IP and only gave up 1 HR.

What does Banda bring to the Rays?

Banda made some interesting comments in his first interview as a Ray, comparing himself to former teammate Robbie Ray, at least tempo-wise, when asked who he models his game after. He mentioned that he doesn’t rush himself, but that he likes to keep the game flowing. While Banda came up with a little more fanfare than Ray came up with, the early major league version of Ray can slightly resemble with what Banda brings at the moment.

But before we dive into that idea, is this truly a fair comparison? Robbie Ray has turned himself into a top-flight starter, especially with the performance he put together in 2017. Well, before Rays was great, it took him some time to truly get going. His first full season in Arizona resulted in a misleading 5-12 record, however, his ERA topped out at 3.52 and he struck out 119 in 127.2 IP. The 2016 season represented a big step back in terms of run prevention (4.90 ERA), and bad luck (3.76 FIP) but he amassed 218 strikeouts in 174.1 IP. Obviously, the stuff was still there and it likely even improved during that season. Good pitchers get better.

For this comparison, though, we’re going to dig deeper into the 2015 Robbie Ray who was just finding his footing in the big leagues.

Fastball (Robbie Ray)

Robbie Ray and Anthony Banda both have very similar fastballs. They bring the heat from the left side as their fastball averages out at around 94 MPH.

The thing here is that Ray really struggled with his fastball in 2015, as hitters teed off on it. The league hit .293/.389/.414 against the pitch. Yeah, the BABIP on the pitch was very high at .367, but it was just obvious that he lacked command of it as evidenced by the 12.1% walk rate.

Another problem was that Ray was very fastball heavy in 2015. He led off with a first pitch fastball 72% of the time to LHB, and 73% of the time to RHB. He did sprinkle in his slider more often than his changeup, but not enough.

Lefties took care of his fastball quite well, and that led to a .286 BAA, though I think there was some bad luck involved here as a .375 BABIP indicates as well. However, his inability to adjust and use his secondaries led to skewed results that could possibly have been better had he diversified. Think 2009 David Price.

Fastball (Anthony Banda)

Banda hit the ground running with his fastball once he came up. He was able to induce weak contact as evidenced by the 38.8% GB% and a .136 ISO. His LD% also was a low 24.5%.

There’s a smaller sample here as compared to Ray’s 2015 season, but there’s reason to believe that Banda came up as a more seasoned fastball pitcher.

A fastball typically isn’t someone’s out pitch, but Banda was able to put up a 10.2% SwStr% as opposed to Ray’s 7.4%. Like I mentioned, this is still a small sample size and we still need to see a lot more out of him.

You still have to get excited over his ability to use his fastball as a swing a miss pitch. Especially from a LHP.

There’s something that I want to point in this side-by-side GIF. Banda seems to have a lower line to the plate than Ray did in ‘15. This might give Banda the advantage in the sense that he’s able to keep his fastball down and work the corners better. However, in terms of life, velocity, and arm speed I have to say that both guys are pretty even here in what their fastballs offer.

Changeup (Robbie Ray)

Ray didn’t throw much of his changeup in 2015. He only threw it 8% of the time.

As I mentioned above he was mostly a two pitch guy (Fastball/Slider). The changeup for him was understandably there for righties. RHB were only able to slug .278 on it.

This typically is the pitch that young pitchers need to develop over time (heck, Chris Archer is still working on his), and it shows here that Ray was still hesitant to use the pitch.

Changeup (Anthony Banda)

Numbers wise, this was the worst pitch that Banda threw in his time with the big club. Some scouting reports also say it’s mediocre, but honestly, I beg to differ.

Banda failed to show much command of his change, and hitters did a better job at locking in on it and hitting it hard. I don’t what you can make of a small sample but a .389/.476/.611 slash isn’t very entertaining.

But let’s talk about something here. The Rays are a very change-up heavy organization, and I think Banda has the makings of a very good one. He sometimes throws it a little harder than he should, but typically it sits around 85-86.

There’s some good fade on it, and he spins it very well which gives it a tighter movement than most change-ups.

Ray seemed to have a steeper drop on his change-up, which might look better at first glance. However, it also looks loopy and that leads me into my next point.

Ray actually came into professional baseball with a very good change-up that began to regress as the years went on. Banda, if anything, has gotten better.

I disagree with anyone who says that Banda has nothing more than a get me over change-up. There’s a lot there to work with, and like I mentioned above and as you can see in the GIF, that tighter spin he creates on his change-up is really, really intriguing.

Breaking Ball (Robbie Ray)

Robbie Ray’s best pitch in 2015 was his slider. He was able to put it to work correctly, and he managed a 36.4% K%. Ray only threw the pitch 16% of the time to RHH, but he attacked lefties with his slider at a 27% clip. The only blemish here was that hitters tallied up a 115 wRC+, so even though the slider wasn’t hit, batters really made it count when they connected.

One other thing here that confuses me is Ray’s refusal to go with the slider more vs. RHB. While the changeup worked well against righties, you’d think that he’d be willing to use a plus slider to his advantage.

Breaking Ball (Anthony Banda)

Banda doesn’t throw the slider at all, in fact he throws a curveball that most profile as his best pitch.

If the change-up fails to continue to improve, he can attack hitters out of the bullpen with a FB/Curve combo that anyone would want.

Hitters went 4-21 against the curveball in his short time with the big league team. It’s an incredibly small sample, but again, it’s important to note here the success seen against his curveball can most definitely continue. He was able to hold hitters a 74.1% Contact%, and that goes to show you that hitters just plain had trouble hitting the curve the few times they faced it.

(For our next comparison here, please forgive the camera angles, we’re working with what I think were the best examples.)

Ray and Banda both have very good off-speed pitches that work (or in Ray’s case, worked) at the Major League level. While the difference between the two is obvious, I do want to say that the comparison Banda made was pretty spot on in regards to who they are on the mound as well.

A funny coincidental note I wanted to add: They’re both 6’2”, and Banda checks in at 190 lbs. Ray at 195 lbs. Their builds are nearly identical.

Are they the same pitchers? Almost. 2015 Ray pitches a little more upright, Banda may put more spin on his stuff, but the comparison Banda made to his former teammate is a fair one, and a good aspiration.

I’m not trying to say that Banda will turn into an a top flight pitcher like Rays, but it’s reasonable to think that he can check in right away at the back of the rotation and provide quality innings. Future development is obviously very hard to predict, but should things continue to move in the right direction regarding his command and change-up consistency, he could stand to move up in the rotation over time. It’s also just as reasonable to expect some Robbie Ray-like bumps along the road.

There could be lapses of command here, and an adjustment period there, but Banda has all the intangibles to contribute now and is maybe even better than what we saw out of Ray in 2015.